Ten employees left Berkeley REI between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, of which nine were terminated and one resigned.
These individuals were let go on the basis of “theft or fraud.” According to REI public affairs, a thorough investigation confirmed fraud and a violation of company policies. REI added that no further details will be shared outside the company, as per REI policy.
“The terminations will not disrupt store operations nor our bargaining efforts with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 and Berkeley employees,” said REI public affairs in an email. “The most recent bargaining meeting was held the week of January 23.”
Jules Geritz, a sales lead specialized in front line and customer operation at Berkeley REI, noted that an accusation like this has happened in the past, before the store’s decision to unionize in August, and was dealt with quietly. This time, Geritz alleged, these accusations seem more concerted and directed toward REI employees.
Since the Berkeley store has unionized, employees have requested information in order to gain information about the historic trends of REI disciplinary action. Geritz added that they have submitted these requests multiple times and that REI has failed to deliver the information.
“It’s hard for me to make any sort of evaluation because I am left in the dark as to exactly what happened,” Geritz said. “That’s why I stand by the process, and every employee’s right to fair and just due process of any sort of investigation or any sort of disciplinary action.”
Geritz noted that it’s disappointing how REI, despite its claims to support its employees’ right to unionize, is allegedly not providing the requested information, not involving union representatives in its internal investigations and “denying (its) employees due process.”
REI public affairs noted that the co-op sent a “detailed” letter to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 explaining the terminations.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, REI has open charges of unfair labor practices at the Berkeley store. The allegations concern the company not bargaining in good faith with their employees’ union representatives.
“Regarding unfair labor practices, we believe these charges are without merit,” REI public affairs said in an email. “We have clear documentation of policy violations and took appropriate action consistent with REI’s long-standing disciplinary practices.”
Geritz noted that REI employees have walked out for a day at the Soho location and for a few hours at the Cleveland location. They also noted that there have been investigations at the Soho location as well, and it is interesting as it seems there is a higher level of scrutiny in the locations that have unionized.
They also alleged that, when the Berkeley store began unionizing, REI management handed out information that presented as compassionate and concerned for employees but really called into question what unionization looked like. This included questions about dues, contracts and how individuals don’t know what they will get with bargaining, according to Geritz.
REI public affairs noted that it “fully supported” the petition process in Berkeley, and shared information about the petition process and voting. REI public affairs added that it answered employees’ questions as they came up and encouraged all employees to do their own research to ensure they were making informed decisions.
“I’ve been with REI for almost 10 years,” Geritz said. “In my experience with REI I’ve never seen something of this magnitude, and I have never seen the exact language used by REI in this way.”